Milk 1976 signed 'brett whiteley' lower centre oil on canvas 71.0 x 77.0cm (27 15/16 x 30 5/16in).
PROVENANCE Purchased from Australian Galleries, Melbourne, September 1976 (label attached verso) Private collection, Melbourne
EXHIBITED Recent interiors, still lifes, windowscapes, sculpture and ceramics, Australian Galleries, Melbourne 21 September - 5 October 1976, no. 7
Amongst Brett Whiteley's vast body of work, including subjects such as landscapes, figurative works, animals and interiors, are his much celebrated still lifes. In the late 1970s, from his Lavender Bay home, Whiteley embarked on an intense period of work based on the traditional theme of still life, in which he produced some of his best works. Following on as a natural progression from his painted Lavender Bay interiors, rigorous investigation of objects and their relationships to one another, provided Whiteley with a new set of possibilities. This subject presented the potential of creating a psychologically challenging and dramatic impact in his work, through deliberate positioning of shapes and forms on his canvases. Whiteley's ability to invite a sense of visual tension and play through his selection and arrangement of objects is confirmed when he said, '..how you arrange a group of objects and then place one object into it can make it menacing or threatening or filled with tension. With a still life of mangoes or summer fruit you can conjure up a whole taste of high summer, or you could put a razor blade into it and make it quite threatening. A still life is like a chess game...moving objects around to set up an aggressive situation. You can make objects fight each other, or you can make them harmonise.'
The culmination of this period of creative production was Whiteley's major solo show of 1976, 'Recent Interiors, Still Lifes, Windowscapes, Sculpture and Ceramics', held in Melbourne at Australian Galleries. It was attested as a brilliant success and the highlight of his career to date. Amongst the selection of eight still lifes, was the elegant and charming work, Milk 1976. In this painting, Whiteley arranges three objects on a table of cream, beige and white, the centerpiece jug filled to the brim with milk. To such serene elements, he injects a surprise burst of citrus with a small lemon beside an ultramarine-blue glass bottle. The strength of this slender upright form and its dominating, bold colour pulls the viewer's attention to the right of the picture plane. As a result, Whiteley subtly creates a stark contrast to the soft, curvaceous form of the milk jug and the underlying neutral colour palette, which resolves to smooth such visual tensions.
The late 1970s at Lavender Bay was a wonderful period of creativity for the artist, as Wendy Whiteley attests, 'The Lavender Bay period was about the whole concept of beauty, with sumptuous, glorious pictures celebrating the harbour and the birds, and the table tops too.' However, it was in his exploration of the 'table top' subjects that Brett Whiteley was able to not only discover the potential of generating subtle tensions and playful interactions between shapes and spaces within the pictorial plane but also to produce paintings in which the familiar belongings around his home became objects of great strength and beauty.
1 McGrath, Sandra. (1979) Brett Whiteley. Sydney: Bay Books, p 185. 2 Pearce, Barry. (1995) Brett Whiteley: Art and Life. Australia: Thames and Hudson (Australia) Pty, p 48.